A few years ago I got an opportunity to experience what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom of a newborn baby and a toddler for a period of about 6 months (without actually being a mom).
And while that period of my life was a stark contrast to the years I spent gaining formal education, I think I actually learned more in those 6 months about life than in all of my education put together.
When I was 17 years old I became a big sister for the first time. At the age of 19 I became a big sister again. At that point I was already a Christian for about 6 months. I graduated high school and attended German language courses in Berlin for the 6 months following my graduation. Then I passed the German exam and came back to my hometown Kyiv to then apply to universities in Germany and change my visa to a student visa.
It so happened that after all those years in formal education, I had a 6-month gap before my university would start in October. I didn’t have any good work or internship alternatives that I could do in Ukraine for that period. It was 2014, and the Ukrainian economy suffered a lot after the peaceful protests in 2013 that then resulted in the outbreak of war. My hometown was still a safe place, but the Ukrainian currency lost 70% of its value against US Dollar in that period and unemployment was on the rise. So for a high school graduate there weren’t many good options of employment.
But it actually didn’t even cross my mind at that point that I could try working. None of my friends in Ukraine really worked during or right after high school. It just wasn’t an option, and my parents didn’t encourage it either.
But I knew I was needed at home. And I wanted to help. My mom had a newborn baby and a two-year-old to care for all by herself, since my dad worked full-time and had to commute to work for over an hour each way.
So I offered my help with the kids and the household. My mom hesitated at first since I never helped with the household or kids before. For the past few years I had been so busy studying in high school towards my International Baccalaureate Diploma & US High School Diploma that I didn’t even have the time to sleep, much less to help her. I would set a goal to at least get 7 hours of sleep each night, but could rarely meet the goal during the week. I was in school the whole day and when I would get home I would quickly eat something and lock myself in my room to study until late at night.
There were times I would come home exhausted at 6pm after school and swimming practice and go to sleep almost immediately. Then I would wake up at 1am in the morning and study until 7am until it was time to go to school again.
So my mom let me study and did not ask for any help around the house or with anything else during those busy years. She wanted me to do well in school and get accepted to a top university abroad. My parents encouraged me in my studies as they viewed my education as the “ticket” to the developed world, something that would later allow me to immigrate to Germany for my studies and let me stay there for work, for example.
So in my first 19 years I hadn’t really done dishes, much cooking, or cleaning. Except for the few occasions I had to bake something for a bake sale in my high school to raise money for our swimming team. Or the few times that I cleaned the house because my friends were coming over. Or the few times we made pizza from scratch when my best friend came over. I always kept my room tidy and generally cleaned up after myself. But it just so happened that I never really had any chores I had to do around the house growing up, since education was such a priority in our home.
And as a Ukrainian you have to work harder to achieve the same standard of living as someone who is already born in a developed country. You have to work harder in terms of learning all the languages to be able to study in a different country and you have to work harder to get excellent grades than someone who is a native speaker. So that was the main reason it took me so long to get my homework done, as I was trying to compensate for all of those years of not studying in English prior to my last 3 years of high school.
So after the busy high school years and learning German intensively in Berlin, I found myself at my parents’ home without much to do in terms of formal education for the next 6 months until my university would start in October.
So I learned how to cook and was loading and unloading the dishwasher every day. I would watch my younger brother peacefully sleep and bring him to my mom to feed when he woke up. I would cook meals for the family and in the evenings clean the entire kitchen to only find it in chaos the next day.
In the summer we went to Greece for a family vacation and got to enjoy some time at the sea. My younger brother was only two months old at the time, and my older brother was two and a half years old. It was also a stressful time as my dad had to go back to Ukraine for work shortly afterwards, and it was just me and my mom with the kids.
We would take turns taking a shower while the other watched the kids, and every few days I would have to be by myself with the kids when she went to the store to get groceries. I would often feel helpless as I couldn’t feed the baby myself, as he would usually not eat out of the bottle while a toddler was emptying a box of rice on a floor and craving for attention himself.
But while sometimes it was stressful and challenging to be a “mom”, there were some precious moments that really made it all worth it. I remember holding Denis at the hospital the day he was born. I could just hold him and watch him sleep forever.
There were also other times when I would put the toddler to sleep at night and read him a fairy tale before going to bed. He would then hold my hand as he drifted off in sleep.
There were also nights of my mom and I having tea outside on the terrace after the kids were already sleeping. Those were often the times I got the opportunity to share more about my new-found Christian faith with her, and she would really listen.
But I think what left a greater impact on her was not my words, but rather seeing me change. Part of the reason I didn’t help around the house much before was not just that I was busy. I was also selfish. I cared about my goals and my homework. But when I became a Christian, all of my priorities shifted, and I really started to care deeply about my family and actually enjoyed serving them.
My mom really appreciated all the help and that also made her warm up to the idea of Christianity. I told her the gospel and about Jesus and she said that she believed. And while everyone has their own journey to Jesus, I like to think that that period was also life-changing for her.
Read the next chapter here.